While recently hospitalized for 53 days with Pneumonia from the coronavirus, music played a huge part in my survival.
Music has always been a tremendous part of my being. I gather such clarity and hope from it. On my first night at the hospital, I listened to a podcast. Halfway through I realized that I didn’t need that kind of noise from the outside. I turned it off and turned on The Smiths through Spotify. I listened to their entire catalog of songs over the next several hours. I was calm, confident, and focused. I realized to get to the other side of this I needed music by my side twenty-four hours a day, so I cut out all television and vowed to stay away from any possible negativity.
This focus on positivity and music began serving me well. I was inspiring the medical staff and they were inspiring me. My positive focus centered on kindness and appreciation towards the medical team. This positive energy began feeding off itself; creating a momentum of hope that’s hard to describe.
My chance at survival was not good. But from day one I wouldn’t let any discussion of that enter my hospital room or enter my head, keeping to my attitude of positivity, patience, no negativity and zero fear.
Over those next 53 days, I listened to The Smiths far more than any other artist. This band has been so important to me for nearly forty years. From Manchester, UK, they were only in existence from 1982 to 1987, but they revolutionized alternative music with their four groundbreaking albums. They shocked the world by breaking up while so young and on top of the music world.
While hospitalized, Morrissey, through both his work with The Smiths and his solo material, spoke to me more than any other singer. With his beautiful baritone voice and his raw, real, and vulnerable lyrics, I’d get lost in the concentration of hanging onto every word. The witty poetic turmoil and self-reflection within his lyrics has always resonated with me, as I have constantly questioned and been suspicious of the motives of authority. There were instances where I put his deep catalog on shuffle and listened solely to Morrissey for more than twenty-four hours straight.
Over the past several years I’ve been writing; telling my personal story of emotional recovery and resilience from much adversity. I lost my fiancé at a young age. Struggling for years after that, I then fell in love and married a valued and trusted friend, which alienated people close to us. Climbing to the top of the grocery world, only to lose it all due to my hard ass ways. With that, millions of dollars were lost. Then rising in the mortgage business, only to lose everything in the crash. Things got so bad I secretly drove a cab overnight through the rough streets of Phoenix. This changed me into a more empathetic human. For work, we left Phoenix for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The reinvented me became the popular local grocer and I created a radio show with my oldest son, Dylan. Then life came crashing down again with Shelly’s brain injury. I became Shelly’s caregiver, and I continued my evolution for the better as I drew much strength and empathy from her grit and grace. We just celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary yesterday.
If I could get through all of that, I knew I could get through this. But I would need to do so on my terms which consisted of drawing strength and confidence from my wide network of friends and family and by turning the music up and never turning it off.
At one point, the drugs were so strong I was teetering on losing my mind. On Christmas Day someone suggested to Shelly that she take my phone away. That irritated Shelly, as she told that person that without my phone I would lose my music, and without my music I would die.
As horrifying as this ride may have been at times, I pulled through and I am alive. Music gets big credit for my survival. With music playing such a large role, the musician that by far helped me the most was Morrissey.
My son Dylan shares by deep passion for music. I’ve been taking him to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival since he was 11 in 2007. Making it to our 11th Coachella became a huge driving goal of mine. I first discussed this goal when my oxygen levels were still dangerously dropping into the 50’s and I couldn’t even walk to the end of the bed without troubles.
Over the next months I trained hard everyday with the goal of making it to Coachella in April. In recent years Coachella became even more meaningful as Dylan became a featured artist with Global Inheritance’s TRASHedCoachella art exhibit at the festival. 2022 was to be Dylan’s 2nd year as a featured artist. Dylan is a successful graphic designer and so much of his style and vibe has been inspired from those sun-soaked days we’ve spent on the grounds of Coachella.
I was determined that it would take much more than this setback to keep me from our 11th Coachella.
As I basked in a celebratory beer with Dylan and his girlfriend Ashley, on day one at the festival; Ashley excitedly said, “Oh, we meant to tell you that we just saw that Morrissey is coming to Phoenix SOON”. I instantly looked it up on my phone and said, “Wow, at the Orpheum on May 10th, we’ll be there!”
Although challenging at times, I took it slow and easy in conquering Coachella. Once home, my attention shifted to seeing Morrissey in a few weeks. I wasted no time in buying prime tickets in the raised ADA row of what was called the “orchestra section”. I am still have a ways to go and am struggling with many long-Covid related issues, especially the later it gets into the day, so I knew these seats would be perfect for us.
In the days leading up to the show, I solely played The Smiths and Morrissey loudly as I exercised in my backyard. It felt so appropriate that I’d soon be seeing the one that had such a role in helping me to survive.
The night of the show I picked Ashley and Dylan up early as I wanted to make sure to get downtown to eat and not miss a thing for my first visit to the renowned Orpheum Theatre, which first opened in 1929. We settled on a quick dinner at a Thai restaurant down the block from the theatre. As we sat and talked over a beer, I confessed that I was nervous. I explained that I felt like something out of the ordinary was going to happen tonight.
Settled comfortably in our seats, we jumped up quickly as the show began with a solo song he hadn’t performed live since 1992, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”.
What a show it was! Morrissey was in a fantastic mood. It was the first performance for him and his band since September of last year. The set was filled with rarities and songs that hadn’t played live in many years. On the seventh song of the night, I had goosebumps and the tears flowed when he played the poignant “Never Had No One Ever” one of my favorite songs off of “The Queen Is Dead”, my favorite Smiths album. I later learned that it was only the eighth time he’d ever played that song live.
Here’s a video I took of that song….
Later in the show I was shocked to hear another song from “The Queen Is Dead” era, that again was not one of the one of the hits, it was a b-side to the single “Boy with the Thorn in His Side”. it was a song that never received much fanfare. Since I first heard this song in 1986, it has been one of my all-time favorites. It’s called “Rubber Ring”.
The song is about how in our darkest moments, music can be what gets you through. These lyrics are perfect for me. They speak to what I have gone through, am continuing to go through, as well as the importance of these songs and the importance of Morrissey to my journey.
Here’s some of the lyrics that speak as if he’s singing directly to me.
“But don’t forget the songs
That made you cry
And the songs that saved your life
Yes, you’re older now
And you’re a clever swine
But they were the only ones who ever stood by you
The passing of time
Leaves empty lives
Waiting to be filled
I’m here with the cause
I’m holding the torch
In the corner of your room
Can you hear me?
And when you’re dancing and laughing
And finally living
Hear my voice in your head
And think of me kindly“
Morrissey first sang these words to us 36 years ago. But back then I couldn’t possibly understand the meaning of these deep lyrics. At that point in time, I hadn’t lived enough life yet. So as a nineteen-year-old, what I loved first about this song was the music and melody.
But as a fifty-five year old man that nearly died a few months ago, I can now say…
I haven’t forgotten the songs that made me smile, nor the ones that made me cry, and I certainly have not forgotten those songs that saved my life!
I am older now and yes, a ‘clever swine’. And throughout this life of adversity, and especially during my 53 days in the hospital, there were times where I did feel as if it was the songs that were the only ones who stood by me.
In the corner of my hospital room I could hear you Morrissey, and now that I am dancing and laughing and finally living, I hear your voice in my head and I think of you kindly.
I was shocked that we were witnessing his first performance of this song in almost twenty years, as he last performed it live in 2004.
Perfect words, meaning and perfect timing for me. I’ve always despised the thought that “everything happens for a reason”, but wow…. lately some things have happened in ways that certainly have made me think.
Once the show ended, we were inspired and energized. We stood outside for a while, with our eyes on both the tour bus across the street and on a few people near the backside of the venue. Within several minutes, the crowd had really thinned out. I told Dylan and Ashley that my dream was to meet Morrissey, and I knew exactly what I would say to him.
With realism and a bit of disappointment in my voice, I concluded that we should leave. As we turned toward our car, we were surprised to see that the bus was gone. The sight of that proved that it did make sense to head towards the car.
We drove half a block and turned right at the venue. With excitement we all saw the bus. It hadn’t left, it just moved around the block to the side of the theatre. Excitedly, I parked. We hustled to the sidewalk in front of the bus. Ten people or so were gathered on the sidewalk between the bus and the “stage door”.
After only a few minutes, a lady came and opened the door. She looked at us quickly with a purpose. I said to Dylan and Ashley, “see how she looked at us? He’s coming soon, I’m sure of it….!”
I then said, “I’m ready, I know what I am going to say.”
Ashley responded, “don’t worry about a picture, I have covered whatever is going to happen”.
Within seconds, here he came, with a big bodyguard near his side.
The bodyguard declared, “no autographs and no pictures. We need to keep moving.” But Morrissey, nearing the bus, did pause to sign a couple of album covers. While he was finishing the second autograph and with his bodyguard between us, we made eye contact.
I then quickly said, “I spent 53 days hospitalized with Covid Pneumonia. While fighting for my life, I listened to your music twenty-four hours a day.”
He continued looking right at me, put his fist to his heart and said, “oh my God”, and then “thank you” while giving me the thumbs up.
Then with him turning towards the bus, I said, “how about a picture?” He started to look back towards me, but his bodyguard quickly scurried him onto the bus.
I was in disbelief that this just happened in the quick way that it did. Walking back to the car I was focusing on the fact that I really wished I had gotten a picture.
As we sat down inside car, Ashley said, “don’t go yet, because I do have a picture, and it’s really good”. My thoughts of a picture with Morrissey had been where we both posed for the camera. But what Ashley got may have been better than that, as it truly captured the moment.
The short drive to drop them off consisted of listening to “Rubber Ring” and genuinely celebrating what had just happened.
Until this week I had wondered what the title of the song “Rubber Ring” meant and how it related to the song. After the show I did some quick research. A “rubber ring” is the life preserver that is thrown into the water when someone is drowning.
Plenty of times I have been drowning, and it was the music and Morrissey that saved me.
They say you should never meet your heroes.
But I did, and I told him exactly what I wanted him to know.
For this, I will always be grateful.
It was perfect.